Previously, I wrote an article on the dangers of meritocracy – especially in the Singaporean upbringing and way of life. While we are all aware that we live in a society where our best is unfairly and unnecessarily juxtaposed against someone else’s good, we need to realise that there will come a point where we’ll just have to say “No” to the sickening and extremely poisonous repercussions of comparisons. I mean, seriously, if a young person is already giving his or her best, what else do you expect? One day, you will either drive him up the wall or out of the house. Is that it?
To combat low self-esteem and the unhealthy habits of pegging ourselves against others, I’d recommend that we employ the power of encouragement in our daily ins and outs. Indeed, a pat on the back pushes out the chest! I’ve said it time and again, that encouragement is to put in courage, where there is none. Never underestimate and neglect the necessity of encouragement – you can really empower someone with simple words of affirmation – eloquence is not required.
I believe that young people, when they come to a certain age, are actually smart and self-aware enough to make their own decisions and be responsible for it. Like it or not, one day we will have to stop treating them like they are still children. This is for their own good as well as for ours. The least (and most) that we ought to do as adults is to give them the benefit of doubt because I believe that youths do know their personal limits and they are doing. Yes, as mature adults, we probably would have experienced more than they have; and so our job is to warn them of the consequences of their decisions and to encourage them to be responsible for it. Look, we must know that we cannot protect them for life and shield them away from making big decisions. This is harsh, but we’ll be crippling them, really. Nothing is more powerful than telling a young person that you believe in him or her and actually following up your words with actions.
(On a side note, it is unfortunate that Singaporean guys pick up negative habits like acting ignorant, avoiding responsibilities and not taking ownership of themselves during their national service days. If a guy decides to adopt that attitude while in uniform, he wouldn’t just throw away two years but may actually cause more damage to himself as he unlearns the good habits honed during his teenage years prior enlistment. No wonder the girls are so outstanding nowadays. I genuinely hope that our boys would stand up and be counted like real men. But I digress…)
We should give our youths the opportunity to learn from their own decisions – both good and bad ones; when they knock into walls, they will be convinced of their folly and will make their own comebacks. Trust me on this – they will regret their decisions more than we ever think they will. I remember saying this before, that while we cannot stop someone from falling, we certainly can stop them from crashing.
I’m unapologetic for my repetition, but all we really should do as older individuals, is to believe in and encourage the younger ones. Already our society is telling them what they cannot do instead of what they can do – what an oppressing environment to dwell and develop in! Don’t add on to their existing pressure! Don’t do to them what everyone else is doing to them. If we love them, then we ought to tell them that they can and will make it, not how they cannot and would never get there – what good do these damaging words do, really? We need to learn to trust that they can make decisions and take ownership of their choices; there is greater value there than curtailing their liberty.
I’m not being a renegade or encouraging any young person to rebel – I’m merely sharing my honest opinion of why I think that our young people are more stifled these days than they ever are. We ought to help them to become complete and mature individuals, not hack them into pieces with our destructive words. Don’t be surprised at how outstanding our young people can become. I think they only need two ingredients – 1) time, and 2) someone to believe in them. Would we dispense these freely?
So from the bottom of my heart – hear me, please – let our young people live their lives, not relive yours. Let them chart their paths, not walk yours. Let’s guide them, not dictate them. The best form of encouragement is when it’s loud and repeated. May your face appear in their heads whenever they think about someone who believes in them and may your voice resonate in their hearts as the one who says, “I believe in you”. That, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the greatest gift you’d ever give to them.
During the peak of an event that I was a part of, some 30 minutes before it started, the organiser stormed into the room and blew her head off at all the seemingly inconsequential matters. She lost her cool and threw unnecessary tantrums to and in front of everyone. My colleague simply commented, “这种人，做不了大事” (direct translation – this kind of person, cannot accomplish big things). I couldn’t help but agree with his harsh and cruel but very accurate assessment!
Looking back at all the different people I’ve worked with, I realise that I can somehow tell how successful a person is and can be simply by observing how he handles his roles and responsibilities, or by how he responds to stress. To an extent, those who cannot undertake major events are usually those who will crumble when the going gets tough. One man whom I really admire is my uncle and former boss, AT. I cannot find a better word other than “Hero” to describe him; his problem-solving and stress-taking abilities are nonpareil and I really look up to him in that aspect.
Assessing a person based on his capacities to manage pressure is not a fatalistic way of evaluation, but it certainly is one way you could analyse him. Of course it’s always easier to just do what you’re comfortable with and prepared for, so naturally it’s the unexpected that truly tests a person’s competence to cope with the bigger things in life. At least for me it indicates the stage that one can operate on and how big it can get.
Don’t misunderstand me – there’s nothing wrong if you’re only able to handle a small platform at this point of your life. The question is, are you even able to handle that platform? I reckon that discontentment, disappointment and disillusionment will set in when a small-platform person desires and covets a big stage that he cannot handle (and vice versa). So, how aware are you of how and what you are built for?
I guess we’ll figure out the answer to this million-dollar question as we progress through life and figure out the answers while we discover how much we can actually manoeuvre. So remember that one sign of your threshold to handle big matters is simply how you complain about small matters. I remember the three key lessons from KK’s excellent lesson during the leaders’ retreat – do not complain (about your situation), do not justify (your actions) and take responsibility (for yourself).
Singapore has world-class education system – that I do not deny. My scholastic abilities have been tuned by my learning environment (observe the careful choice of words) and I’d like to think a big part of my confidence and street-smartness (or some would say arrogance) comes from a decade spent in ACS. However, if I had a choice, I’d rather not raise my children in a local school and if I had the resources, I’d rather home-school my kids; I do not want to subject them to the unnecessary and poisonous culture of the education system here – where students somehow feel that they are never quite good enough.
Our academia has changed considerably – some would consider it progress, some see it as regress and for a few others, digress; I belong to the third group. I think that we’re missing the point of education, really. We should teach people how to think not what to think. Today’s students are subjected to a lot more pressure and stress – that doesn’t come from themselves but primarily from their parents and secondarily from their peers. The desire to improve themselves is shrouded by external motivations instead being influenced by internal drives.
I’ve always opined that pride is not about wanting to be the best – there’s nothing wrong with that – but pride is about wanting to be better than someone else. There’s an element of covetousness in pride, where the desire to better oneself sprouts from the obsession to outdo others. We’ve heard it time and again – a student could far outperform himself and score a 60% in a test (and achieve his all-time highest score) but this joy is somewhat short-lived; his initial delight soon plummets into despair when he begins to compare his results with a classmate that scored 70%. The process is transferred to the next dimension and (if you pardon the direct translation of the old Chinese adage) there always seems to be a higher mountain that is insurmountable. Where does it stop? Before you know it, these students return home to mourn about their oh-so-terrible score when they should instead rejoice over their progress made. There’s no end to this vicious cycle of self and societal inflicted torment. No wonder suicide cases related to academic pressures have risen sharply over the years.
Achievements and successes are all relative – hence it is imperative that we manage our expectations and chart our progress on a realistic rate. Today, you should ask yourself if you are competitive or comparitive. There’s nothing wrong with benchmarking yourself against the best to gauge and improve your own abilities and thresholds. But once you begin to compare and slide into the venomous glance-over-your-shoulder behaviour, you inevitably welcome self-destruction and a never-ending pursuit of nothingness. We are all different – get used to the idea. To those who have more, more is expected of them. Learn to be comfortable with yourself and realise that if you want to be someone else, who’s going to be you?
When I stroll down memory lane, I don’t seem to ever recall a time that I wanted to be better than someone else because I realised that I’m constantly waging war with my own insanely high standards (again, this is a relative statement). To an extent, I seem to allow no one to determine how good or how bad I can and will be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m an ambitious person and I effort to bring out the best of my gifts and talents by being excellent in all that I undertake, but in the event that my desired outcomes do not materialise, I have learnt to trust God for the lessons learnt in temporal failure and postponed success. I realised that I’ve always secretly (but confidently) trusted God for the results, for God was the origin of my desires and ambitions. Either way it turns out, I already know that God, being efficacious, has a lesson in store for me to learn; I believe that He has pre-prepared different packages of lessons for every single different outcome.
I urge you to be wary of the poisonous standards of this world, where it tells you that being contented with your lot is apparently mediocrity. A subscription to these worldly values often results in worldly remorse and regret – that’s not biblical or victorious living at all! Know that with Jesus, we fight from victory and not for victory. Be comfortable with who God has created you to be for your strengths complements someone else’s weaknesses and vice-versa – that’s how the body of Christ works. Everyone plays a different role and is a different jigsaw in the puzzle of life – never let this world determine how you should live and what should make you happy. May your spirit be acutely tuned to the dangers that inescapable and obligatory academic excellence brings.
So what if you finally become the best and better than everyone else? What’s next? At the end of the day, it’s all meaningless. It doesn’t make you better than anyone else, really. The antidote then, to competition and comparison, is contentment.